July 26, 2010
by Cornelia Funke
Igraine may come from a family of magicians but she has no desire to follow in the footsteps of her parents and her older brother. Igraine has other plans — she wants to be a knight. To that end, she’s already raided the castle armory for armor and practices daily with her sword.
When word comes that the new neighbor plans to steal her parents’ singing magical books, no one is very worried. After all, the castle has special magical defenses and her parents are wondrous magicians, but then in completing her birthday present, her mother mis-speaks a word and POOF both of her parents are transformed into pigs. While no one minds pigs, pigs cannot do magic.
There is a spell to reverse the process but first someone has to go get the key ingredient — red giant hair. It sounds like a perfect job for a knight so Igraine borrows a horse and rides toward the hills. There she meets a real knight. Will he be able to help save the castle or is it as hopeless as he fears?
My family listened to this as a book on tape and I have to admit that I approached it with a great deal of curiosity. Funke is one of my son’s favorite authors but the cover looked a bit girly (he is very aware of what is girly) so I was surprised that he picked this particular book out on his own.
Igraine is a character who will appeal to boys and girls. She’s a feisty heroine who uses her smarts and determination to get herself in and out of a wide variety of trouble.
Funke also wrote this book with her trademark humor. Igraine’s mother is a great beauty and, even as a pig, has no doubt that she is the fairest in all the land. The singing books resemble mischievous children more than they do anything particularly wise and apparently wizards succeed occasionally in spite of their own inability to plan — their failures are always funny.
This is a good road trip book but would also make a great family read aloud.
July 21, 2010
When I think Antarctica, I don’t tend to think fossils so I picked this title up initially because it surprised me.
It tells about the work of paleontologist William Hammer and his crew as they excavate fossils for study in the United States. With the bitter cold of Antarctica, field seasons are only weeks long. In addition to discussing the work of the paleontologists, Walker tells about their gear as well as the dangers of working in the extreme cold.
Hammer knew he had the major portion of a skeleton but not what it was. Imagine having to wait months for shipping containers just to find out what you had found! Back in Illinois, they cleaned the fossils and realized that they had found something entirely new — Cryolophosaurus ellioti, frozen crested lizard, the first dinosaur to be found on mainland Antarctica. Amazingly, other materials found with the remains provided a rare insight into how this particular animal died.
This may be a beginning reader but at 50 pages and with specialized vocabulary, it wouldn’t be suitable for a brand new reader. Still, kids enthusiastic for dinosaurs will take the time to puzzle through the well-written text.
I love finding a non-fiction beginning reader that is well written and this one certainly fits that requirement.
July 13, 2010
This is a biography about a dog named Tray and a girl named Mary Ann Anning. If you are a dino nut, are related to a dino nut or read many children’s books, you may know Anning’s name. She is well known for the fossils she found as a twelve year old girl in Lyme Regis, England. Her finds included an ichthyosaurus, a plesiosaur and the first pterodactyl.
Less well known is her companion on these many outing — a small black and white dog named Tray. When they discovered the ichthyosaurus, Tray stood guard while Mary Ann returned to town.
When a scientist arrived and wanted to see the place where the ichthyosaurus had been, Tray was the one that led them to the right cliff side location. Tray also kept Mary Ann company when she studied the books that the scientist bought for her.
With so many books being published on Anning, including adult novels, I was happy to find a Redmund’s beginning reader. Warning: It is a level three reader so it may be beyond the reach of absolute beginners, but fairly confident readers who still aren’t ready for picture free texts will dive right in.
An excellent choice for dinosaur lovers, dog lovers and budding scientists.
July 9, 2010
More than anything else, Charmain Baker would rather spend time with books, either her own or someone else’s. So she pens a letter to the King, volunteering to work in the royal library.
Then several relatives, including her mother, volunteer her to house sit for Great Uncle William, the Royal Wizard of Norland. Mother has never held much with magic — what would the neighbors say to something so base and common — so Charmain knows nothing about this special skill. But someone has to look after the place while her Uncle is away and Charmain is the only one with nothing to do.
Not only does Charmain have nothing to do, she has very few skills as she discovers when she gets to the house. She has no idea how to make her own meals, do laundry or clean a house. That said, Great Uncle Williams house is no ordinary house. There are no taps in the kitchen so where does the water come from? And whenever she wonders aloud how to do something, Great Uncle William’s tired voice gives sounds out of thin air to give her the answer. And why do you sometimes end up one place when you go through a doorway, and sometimes another completely different? Maybe she’ll just settle down with a good book and wait for her uncle to return, so she heads up to his library in search of something to read and finds an interesting looking, but tricky, spell book.
Then a boy her own age shows up in the midst of a rain storm. He is to be the wizards apprentice and is aghast at how little Charmain knows. She may not know much, but Charmain quickly notices how often Peter’s spells go awry while mysteriously, her own seem to come together rather nicely in spite of her lack of knowledge.
To her great surprise, Charmain is invited to help in the Royal Library. To her dismay, she doesn’t get to read all day. She is to look for documents that might answer a mystery — where is all the money in the kingdom going? If this leak isn’t found and stopped, soon they will have to ally themselves with a neighboring kingdom of dubious reputation. Charmain knows that the answer must be somewhere if she can only decide who to trust and where to look for information.
I listened to this one as a book on tape and wasn’t altogether sure I’d stick it out. Charmain was so utterly useless and more than a little snippy, but I’m glad I did. This isn’t your classic high fantasy — magic and mysterious creatures abound but there are no dragons and many people exist without magic , or so they think.
Readers who enjoy mysteries and/or fantasy would enjoy this tale although it may be more suited to girls than boys who really won’t care how much trouble Charmain had doing her own hair.
by Diana Wynne Jones
Meek and dutiful, Sophie quietly takes her place as an apprentice in the family hat shop after Papa’s death. The work is tedious, but Sophie has to do her part and all three daughters have been apprenticed out by Sophie’s well-meaning step-mother. Besides, Sophie has a talent for hat making, a talent that seems almost magical.
But magic is something the people of her town fear. Nearby is the Witch of the Waste, the subject of late night tales and fireside whispers.
Then a massive black castle floats into view. Soon the town is abuzz with talk of Wizard Howl, a fierce sorcerer who robs young women of their hearts.
With the castle looming over the town, Howl is a much more immediate threat until the Witch shows up in the shop and turns Sophie into an old woman.
In a panic, Sophie flees the only home she’s ever known and, as night falls, barges into the only shelter in sight — the floating castle. There she becomes Howl’s housekeeper who is more vain than fierce. Still, for a man with so many short comings, he occasionally seems amazingly kind in his own mysterious way.
A hapless apprentice,
A scary scare crow,
A crafty fire demon,
and a dog who sometimes turns into a man come to people Sophie’s life even as she struggles to shake off the enchantment.
As an old woman, Sophie becomes fierce and strong, although Howl still accuses her of being too kind. She also has a tendency to make short sighted decisions with disastrous though humorous results. As she strives to sort things back out, she must decide who is more than they appear to be and which of the people in her life can be trusted, all before it is too late.
A fabulous fantasy adventure, Howl’s Moving Castle makes an excellent read for tweens who adore fantasy, feisty, strong-willed characters and humor. For, at times deeply serious, at other times the book leaves you rolling with laughter, especially when Howl is under the weather.
It isn’t necessary to read these books (Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, and The House of Many Ways) in order, but it will certainly shed light on the characters of Sophie and Howl when they appear in The House of Many Ways.
This middle grade novel would also be suitable for advanced readers for, although love is a strong theme, it isn’t acted upon in anything but a romantic sense.